Inside Generations of Commemoration
This document presents insights into the practice of Secret City Arts on the project Generations of Commemoration which was funded by the Voices of War and Peace AHRC Engagement Centre. Statements are drawn from interviews conducted with researchers from the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR) who interview SCA in order to aid reflection on the project approach as public history practice concerned with exploring the commemoration of World War one.
Images were produced by SCA in the course of the workshops which were conducted in the execution of the project.
Audio of this interview can be found on Soundcloud.
Who are Secret City Arts?
Mandy Ross: I’m a writer. I’ve written lots of children’s books and I write with adults. I’ve written plays and poetry, and I like using writing and inviting people to write and contribute their words in lots of different creative ways.
Pyn Stockman: I have a background in drama and theatre, with a particular interest in story and storytelling. I also make stuff. I make masks and props and puppets – and a combination of all those things goes into a mix in order to produce engaging community projects and performances that go out into the community – but also seek to work with others in order for them to work creatively.
What is Secret City Arts?
Pyn Stockman: It was founded in 2008. Mandy and I met via a CBSO project and decided we wanted to do something. Our first project was ‘Tracing the River Rea’, which I think lies at the heart of some of Secret City’s work, because it was about exploring wild, open green spaces and making a creative response to them.
Mandy Ross: So, we are very much located in the city and making a response to the urban environment and to the hidden stories, the hidden histories that we can discover and make a response to. Working with community groups, adults and children, with schools, with youth groups, with all kinds of different groups and settings.
Pyn Stockman: We have a range of outcomes to our projects. So, some of it is about making audio pieces, some of it is about making visual work, and some of it’s about making live performance, creative writing and film.
Mandy Ross: And drawing all those different art forms together, so they’re integrated and firing off from each other.
Pyn Stockman: One of the key things about Secret City is the interplay between the different art forms and how we create projects that explore our own interests, so that we’re very excited about what we do.
Mandy Ross: Secret City Arts works with a variety of different organisations and groups. We work in schools. We work with children and young people in out-of-school settings, play settings and youth clubs. We work with adult groups and older adult groups. We like drawing together intergenerational groups. So, we have older people feeding their memories into younger people to respond to. So, it’s a very wide cross-section of various communities around the city, and beyond.
Other collaborators include: Birmingham Hippodrome, the archive service from Central Library, photographers, filmmakers, with musicians, animators, sound artists. Silversmiths.
Mandy Ross: So, lots of different art forms, and we like to weave together different art forms to make different outcomes.
Working with Voices of War
Pyn: The way that we understand ‘Voices of War’ and the greater context for the project that we’ve been a part of is that, really, we’re part of a network of organisations and projects that seek to explore World War I. And to engage communities with their history and with the history of World War I. We see it as a community of interest and that ‘Voices of War’ has brought together a number of different organisations and groups in order to explore that.
Mandy Ross: We came into the process having done a World War I project, and we were encouraged to look at ways that we could deepen and further our project and extend its value. Build on the work that we’d done, and that’s been a great opportunity, which we feel is continuing, and we can see the potential for further links and bonds and explorations via ‘Voices of War’.
Foundations of the Generations of Commemoration Project
Pyn Stockman: The original World War I project for which we received HLF funding was called ‘From Handsworth to Flanders Field’ and was based around a war memorial that is in Rookery Primary School. That’s where we began with it. We began by asking questions with the children, with two Year 6 classes, and uncovering two stories from two of the names on the memorial.
The films, which were the end product, were telling the stories of two of the soldiers, of Harry Stirk and George Grimmett. The films also used creative writing and archive materials
Mandy Ross: We started with details from the archive that we’d managed to trace about these two soldiers whose names we picked out, out of over 500 names on the war memorial. So, we had basic details about where they lived, which was a way of connecting with the local community. The children knew the roads and the houses where those two soldiers had lived, and we knew their family shapes from the census details, which the archivists had helped us to find. We had a workshop with the children in the archive, so they could see the sorts of resources that are held in that kind of archive.
Then, we combined those details with real materials that we found from a number of sources from the Imperial War Museum, online resources, to write letters. For instance, correspondence between a soldier at the front and younger siblings at home, or imagining letters of condolence that might have come to a woman who was widowed with two young children.
We imagined how the family who lost their soldier… How they would have managed over the next few years. What their responses would have been to the public commemorations and to the celebrations for the armistice. Would they have wanted to take part in those celebrations or would it have been too much for them, that bittersweet moment when the war came to an end, but they had lost their man?
So, that was a very rich and real starting point, using historical documents and artefacts, but then making the stories as authentically as we could imagine them.
Later, about six months down the line, we had contact from the grandson of George Grimmett, who was the soldier who was killed in action. He brought us a tin of letters and his own family story about… It was his grandfather that had been killed in action, and his father’s life, and so we were able to compare the stories that we’d imagined with the real story that he filled us in.
We weren’t far off, actually. It felt as though our process was based in fact and produced material that worked. He was filling in more detail, but we felt that we had done a good job really of imagining what a family might go through and where they might continue.
Mandy Ross: He found us online. We’d posted the films and some of the written materials, and we’d made a hardback book that we’d put in the local library as well as in the school. We’d chosen the two names on the war memorial because they were unusual names, and we knew that that would help us in the search in the archive. We knew that we couldn’t manage a Smith or a Jones, and somebody had obviously been trawling the internet for Grimmett and had put him in touch with our website. He made contact through the website.
So, it felt a very rich link, and we’re still in touch with him and we’re still using his materials, and we hope to continue with that link in further project work.
What was ‘Generations of Commemoration’?
Mandy Ross: A process of exploring how we remember the war now, but looking back and imagining how people who went through it would have remembered immediately their experience, their family experience. And then, over the decades, how that was remembered locally and nationally. So, we were working with those layers.
Pyn Stockman: It seemed very pertinent to explore the difference or the similarities between a very private remembering and commemoration and the more public spectacle and ways of commemorating, which we did through our project.
Mandy Ross: in our project, originally, we were working with a school community where the families would not have had personal links with World War I. They would have come to this country much later and not have had personal involvement. We wanted to find a way to work out how to bring the history and the commemoration alive for people who wouldn’t automatically have a personal link.
We felt as though our original project was very successful in that. One of the strands of this ‘Generations of Commemoration’ was seeing how far we could develop it on with other communities and bring it to life using film.
Mandy Ross: Well, for our original project, one of the things that we made was a series of films […]. We wanted to explore how to extend the use of those films beyond the original participants and the school where we made them. And we wanted to see how we could make a link with the archive of film held by MACE, which we were aware of, but we didn’t know very much about. So, it was a great way to link those two resources.
Developing Public History Work through Partnership
Pyn Stockman: One of the reasons that this project came about was through a ‘Voices of War’ event where we met researchers from BCU. We showed our films, and they expressed an interest in them, talked to us a little about the MACE archive. Then, we also spoke about how we wanted to look at our practice and whether our films could be used in a wider context beyond the community that had originally created them. So, from that, ‘Generations of Commemoration’ grew.
Pyn Stockman: I think what makes working with this project unique and special is the fact that we are working with BCU and with a researcher dedicated to looking at our project. One of the other things we wanted to do through this project was interrogate our own practice and look at exactly what it is that we do in our creative history engagement workshops. Can we formalise it in some way, and can we use it beyond, say, the bigger projects like ‘[From Handsworth to Flanders Field’? Can we use it? Can we go in and can we deliver those kinds of engagements?
Mandy Ross: Can we create a life beyond the specific project? Can we get further education work and further community engagement out of an initial starting point?
The link with BCU was very beneficial for the schools and the youth group that were our participants. It felt as though we were offering project work, but also a link with a city university. We hoped that the children and young people could get a sense that this could be their university and that they had a place there, and that was a very exciting element of the project.
Pyn Stockman: What this project has done in terms of our practice is it’s added in this element of film. Not just simply the films that we have produced, which we have found a place for beyond the group that we’ve made them with, but also working with archive film. We wanted to understand where that might fit within our box of tricks – our storytelling and use of props and artefacts – which is a starting point for our work, and we’ve found that it has worked.
What happened in the Project:?
Here, SCA relates its work with several groups of young people drawn from the Action for Bullying campaign@@ and St Anne’s primary School
Creative workshop practice
We picked one film from our [original] four films that we made to show them. We picked the George Grimmett one partly because of that extended link with the Grimmett family and the introduction of new artefacts.
The children saw the film of the Grimmetts and so they were connected on some level with a real, live soldier. Then, they looked at the public commemoration of one of the films that we used, and they imagined what those people were thinking, what they were doing. They were observing and they were questioning.
Mandy Ross: as well as the two films, which we found a way to link together from their different sources, we also had our suitcase of artefacts that gave the children an imaginative way in to start creating in their minds the individuals in the story. So that they had an idea who we were talking about, and they were experiencing emotionally some of the experiences that that family went through. So that when they watched the film, they could bring themselves into the film and they became active observers of the films, both through that participation and also through our practice of asking them to come up with questions about the film.
So, there were lots of different ways that we encouraged the young people to, not just sit and watch a screen, but to be part of the story and imagine it and feel it and respond to it, and the teachers commented on that. On how it was a very active process of watching film.
Mandy Ross: one of the things that made this project different for us was that we had the chance to repeat material in three instances. Usually, we do our work once and then that’s it. So, we think about it beforehand and we try to plan it the best that we can do, and then we do it and then it’s done, but this gave us the chance to try it and then repeat it and then repeat it, in three different settings.
So we started with a suitcase of artefacts that were chosen to elicit from the participants ideas about who the people might be and what the story might be.
Pyn Stockman: the suitcase contained costume as well, from the film. So, what they were seeing on the screen from our film… They also saw some of that within the suitcase itself, and there was a mixture of real… Well, real. Mocked-up artefacts that were drawn from real material and ones that were part of the creative response that the Rookery children had made in the first project, ‘From Handsworth to Flanders Field’.
Mandy Ross: So, the suitcase had items of clothing and mocked-up letters and telegrams that were based on reality. So, one of the questions that we had through the project was how to explain that these items… And it looks like an old suitcase and it looks like old things in it, and they are based on reality, but they’re not historical artefacts, but they are ‘as if’ historical artefacts. That felt quite a complex thing that I don’t think we explored fully with the children. That’s a question I feel that I’m still thinking about.
Pyn Stockman: It was something that we explored, or would explore, in a longer-term project. Something that comes out in the ‘[From] Handsworth to Flanders Field’ is children being able to differentiate between what we actually know, what we can infer and what we’ve imagined.
Managing the Workshops
Mandy Ross: The first workshop that we did focused on the family, their private experience and their private ways… How might this family remember their husband, their father that they’d lost? How might they commemorate him? How do you, in your family, remember stories or people from the past?
Pyn Stockman: So, in the first workshop that we delivered for this project, using the suitcase and the relevant artefacts inside and also the George Grimmett film, the children were then asked to explore this idea of private commemoration using drama and freeze frames. Some very beautiful pieces of work came out of this.
With the Action for Bullying group, there was also a play with those objects and an arranging of them in this idea of a private memorial to George Grimmett that I can share with you.
Mandy Ross: So, the second workshop for each of the groups was exploring public commemoration. That was where we used a film from the MACE archive, which was a film from 1927 in Alfreton, not in Birmingham where our work has been located, and we watched it to see the public commemoration. A parade with ex-soldiers marching and family members marching, and then the unveiling of a public war memorial, and watching people’s responses as the whole event was filmed.
Then, working with the groups, with each of the three groups, in their turn, to explore, “What would you feel like if you, as a child, were taking part in that commemoration? Had you been a member of that family 10 years on, how might you take part in that commemoration? What might the generals be saying? We could see there was a priest in the film. What might the priest be saying?”
We worked towards producing some speech material, written by the children and young people on red ribbons, linking with the poppy symbol of commemoration. And creating almost a wreath of ribbons that then the children ceremonially laid down in front of an imagined memorial.
Pyn Stockman: We wanted the children to be actively engaged with watching the film, which was quite simple when we were working with the Action for Bullying group, because it was a smaller number. So, while we were watching the Alfreton film, they were allowed to talk and offer observations and ask questions as it was moving along.
With a class of 30, that kind of thing just isn’t possible, because nobody would be concentrating. So, we developed this process of, “As you watch it, as soon as you spot something or as soon as you have a question, raise your hand.” Then, as the film progressed, once a number of hands were raised, we’d pause the film and we’d collect those observations and try and answer the question or make inferences about what we’d seen.
Mandy Ross: Both the films and the artefacts together made the strongest connection. We asked in each case, “Was it the suitcase of artefacts or was it the film or was it both together, the combination?”
Each time, by a very large margin, it was the combination that was effective.
Mandy Ross: each time we asked the participants – the classes of children or the young people from the youth group – what it was that most engaged them and that did the best job of helping them to understand what we were exploring. So, we asked, “Was it the suitcase of artefacts or was it the film, or was it the artefacts with the films?”
In each case, it was the combination that, by a long way, was the most effective way of engaging and helping them to understand.
Mandy Ross: I think we had more of a close focus, and we had the opportunity, working with […] a researcher, to plan and to observe and to reflect on our practice in more close focus and greater depth than we usually have. The chance to repeat a small project was useful for us.
Pyn Stockman: I it was also different in that we weren’t working towards the children producing a film or a book. It was about exploration and about understanding, which is always part of our projects, but that was its main focus.
Mandy Ross: So, it was about process rather than making something, which is unusual for us.
Working with researchers
Mandy Ross: It was great to have an outside eye, and it helped us to capture what was going on in the session. When we’re delivering, it’s hard to do the delivery and to capture what’s going on.
I certainly felt that it raised the profile of the project with the schools and the youth group that were participating. To say that we were being researched by BCU, by academics, I think gave the project a higher status. We were glad of that.
Mandy Ross: we were very pleased with the participation of the children and young people. We felt that they came up with very focused and thoughtful and true responses and made work… It was fleeting work, but what they made was… They really felt it and they were doing it with integrity, we felt.
I think it was also the first time that we have pushed our own work with film and with outside film at all. So, that was a real new voyage of discovery for us.
Pyn Stockman: I feel like it’s allowed us to focus on our practice, but it’s also opened it up as well, in terms of using film. And also maybe having this product that we can offer to schools that’s not this massive long-term project, but that’s just simply something that we can offer, to go in and be a catalyst for them to start further work.
Mandy Ross: And also how to combine film with the other sorts of creative work that we do, different art forms, and intermingling different ways for children to learn and understand and make a response.
Mandy Ross: we’re always working to find ways to combine drama work and writing work and making work, and so bringing film into that mix felt like a really strong new direction for us.
It was great working with the teachers in the sessions. It was quite tricky to get further responses from the teachers. They’re under great pressure; we all understand that.
Pyn Stockman: So, I suppose that’s about the importance of building your evaluation into the session that you’re delivering, and capturing it there and then in the simplest possible way. I think it highlighted for me one of the most effective ways is the circle where you step in if you agree with the statement. You step out if you disagree with the statement. You immediately have a visual way of capturing that evaluation, and then you can ask the question of, “Well, why have you chosen to make that response?”
I think it was probably, in future, about including the teachers within that process too.
Pyn Stockman: “Ooh, how are we going to do this?” It was that thing of having to create a very short project. Like, “Two sessions? What? We’re going to have two half days? That’s a bit mad.”
We normally have at least six, eight sessions, plus the developing of the final product, and that was quite interesting. It was interesting to look at how much you can hone down your practice and go in and deliver something that’s a very meaningful experience for the participants in quite a short and focused amount of time.
Mandy Ross: I suppose the other thing I’d add would be that I felt as though… It feels slightly shifting what we’re thinking of doing to close the project and to share what we’ve done. I think, in a future project, I’d like to have that worked out and nailed, so that we can work with the participants towards that in whatever form we’ve decided it’s going to be. Yes.
Public History work and the Great War: Beyond the Trenches
Mandy Ross: I would always steer away from battlefield work. I don’t like that. I find that very difficult to deal with […] if you can harness boys’ interest – not only boys, but boys are interested in that kind of warfare – and harness that into meaningful work then there are ways to do it.
It was interesting, looking for clues in the environment. So, our original project in Handsworth… We walked from the school down the High Street to the library. The library had… I think it opened in 1913. It was certainly open during World War I. If you look up above eye level, above the first storey of the shops, there were clues in the architecture. There were tiled dates on some of the buildings, and we had old photos to show tramlines. So, we could compare and contrast then and now.
Pyn Stockman: Yes. No. I was thinking it through, and that scene… It grew out of them having watched the George Grimmett film, and they wanted to be the soldiers going over the top. They wanted to do that. They wanted to enact George Grimmett’s death, but from the enactment of George Grimmett’s death was this very thoughtful and emotive material that came out of it. So that they’d built their own kind of emotional memory of what that was like through their enacting and through their freeze frames and through their play with that scene that we then moved on to use…
Well, you were there, and one boy was like, “Yes. I was the medic that stretchered him off.” So, then, when they were in the pub commemorating, raising a glass to George Grimmett, their lost comrade, they were able to draw on that piece of drama to inform the act of commemoration, which was a powerful little piece that they had made.
They also talked, within that scene, about whether they would have gone to the public commemoration or actually whether that private commemoration where they raised their glasses was more powerful to them.
Pyn Stockman: As a subject, World War I is not necessarily studied or explored in primary school at all. So, I think what we wanted to do with our project wasn’t to focus too much on the war aspect, but to focus on the home front and what would have been going on. And link it, as Mandy was saying, with buildings that would have been there, with ideas that children could grasp hold of as well. Of, “What would it be like if a brother or a sister was away?”
Mandy Ross: In the end, we publicised the project that we were offering with BCU to the school, saying it was about a history engagement project, not a World War I project. We got more responses as a result.
Initially, a head teacher had said, “Oh, no. We don’t do World War I in primary.” So, that was useful to learn, and certainly, I think you can offer it as, “These are different ways of getting kids fired up about history.” That’s a more general thing that you’re offering, with some CPD for teachers, than simply, “Here’s a bit of poppies and bloodshed about World War I.”
Pyn Stockman: I have to say, one of the most compelling things for the children was the fact that Richard Grimmett had been in touch with us. It was this thing of, “What? That’s a real story? What?”
He’s a real person, and they really got that. Yes. They couldn’t stop asking questions. “Well, do you know this about him? Do you know that about him?” You could feel another whole project begin to unfold.
Using AV archives
Mandy Ross: We were excited about the… Exploring the MACE archive was something that we hadn’t… We were aware of it, but didn’t really have a sense of what there was in it, and also how we might build on our previous projects to develop further work.
Pyn Stockman: Yes, and I think, ultimately, where film might sit when we do a bigger project and how we might use film, existing archive film, within the films or the live performances that we make would perhaps be one of the outcomes.
Mandy Ross: I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot lately. I think what we look for are tiny nuggets of history: tiny bits that we can then weave a story or invite the participants to imagine a story around. So, I think that’s a very different approach from an academic history. So, it’s very much a starting point, a historic document or an archive resource. It’s one tiny thing.
Mandy Ross: My instinct is that we always need to work with someone who knows their way around an archive. It’s very difficult, as an outsider, and even with the catalogues. The Birmingham City Archive has got, obviously, catalogues of what they hold, but I can’t work out from that what’s going to be useful.
Similarly, with MACE, there were some snippets that we could see online, but there was a frustration about how you didn’t know what there was until you could see it. And you couldn’t see it until you knew what there was, (Laughter) so, what you wanted to see… So, I think we always need help with that specialist archivist role.
Mandy Ross: with the Birmingham City Archive, we’re very aware that the archive staff have been cut and cut, and I don’t know how MACE works in that sense. I don’t know whether there’s anyone inside MACE that’s doing some of the work that the research assistant was doing
Mandy Ross: It’s very, very time consuming and […] it sounds as though we possibly could do more ourselves, but in terms of time resource, that’s just very difficult, isn’t it?
Pyn Stockman: the Alfreton film that [the researcher] picked, was just perfect for the use with primary-aged children or young people.
Originally, I thought, “Oh, we must have something that’s at least Birmingham based. They must be able to make the link in that way.” Then, actually, once you looked at some of those and compared them with the Alfreton one, actually, that one… It showed so much more.
So, it is not always about having to show something hyperlocal to the group you’re working with, and I think that’s one of the things that I learned, very much so, from this project, but it’s about applying… Finding the right material and then applying it to something more local perhaps.
Pyn Stockman: It was very human, though, that film. There was just something really wonderful about it. You could trace little stories, people’s little stories, in amongst the big crowd, and I think the children found that very… I found it very compelling. I was very excited by that, and I think the children were too.
Mandy Ross: I think the children could see themselves in the film. There were kids of the right sort of age, and then there were other family members they could see. But, also, I think it was a process that we went through. That if we’d started with the film, which was what we’d originally thought…
Mandy Ross: If we’d started with the Alfreton film, it would… They commented on the fact that it was silent, that it was black and white. It would have been quite hard for them to engage. It was because we’d got a whole story going that they had taken into themselves by doing the drama work – they had occupied the story – that they were then able to occupy the film when they watched it.
Mandy Ross: It’s just a film, isn’t it? It’s footage, and it hadn’t occurred to me that it was not a programme. It hadn’t been shaped-
Pyn Stockman: It was like a snapshot of that day, as opposed to the ceremony. It was a snapshot of everything around, then the people sitting up and looking out of windows, and down to the shop signs that you could see. All became part of that story and part of what the children were pulling from it and understanding, and most importantly, I think, becoming excited about.
Mandy Ross: If it had been – I can’t think where it is in London – the Horse Guards Parade or wherever it is, where it’s very controlled, it wouldn’t be so easy for the children to find their way into something that was very ceremonial. It was much more about all of life, wasn’t it, at that moment?
Mandy Ross: So, I guess it was… We chose that film. There were other films that we saw, and that was the one that felt as though it offered the most for our purposes.
Mandy Ross: I guess it felt as though it was about the people. It wasn’t about the authorities and the army commemorating. It was about a community and the families within it and what they would have done, and that suited our starting point and our content.
Pyn Stockman: The way we introduced the Alfreton film in the workshops was we were very honest that this might have been the kind of memorial that somebody from the Grimmett family might have gone to. But this wasn’t Birmingham. This was Alfreton.
Mandy Ross: But we made clear that it was real. That it was real historic film. That it wasn’t… Because the previous film, we had made of children acting. So, there was a distinction there.
Pyn Stockman: Yes, and we set it up to encourage them to observe who was in it, what they were doing, what they could see around and about in the film. If they had any questions, we asked them, “When you spot something or you have a question, put your hand in the air, and once we’ve got a few, we’ll stop it and we’ll try and answer.”
Mandy Ross: I’d say that what we’re trying to do is to bring the history to life and for the children or young people to inhabit a story, so that they have some empathy with the characters. And they can try to imagine what they might do if they were in that situation, imagine what it might have been like.
I think your drama work, Pyn, is all about experiencing some of the feelings that go with that kind of experience. So, making connections.
Pyn Stockman: I’d agree, and I also think the way we introduce the material, for example, the suitcase and the film, but the suitcase particularly… We tell it as a story. We create that bit of excitement of, “This case. It contains a story. A real story,” and from that moment, the kids are kind of, “What? What?”
Then, they wait for the reveal, and then gradually the objects are taken out and the objects, the artefacts… They help bring that story in some way to life. The children get to interact with those, not just in a, “Oh, we’re looking at an old letter,” but, “This tells us something about what we’re going to work with.”
Then, the drama work goes on to ask them to become those characters: “What is it like to be that character? What do they do? How do they do it?” So, you begin to gradually build up a picture, and I think maybe that’s slightly unusual.
I do know schools where they do offer more experiential learning programmes, but I think what we do is slightly different as well, because it’s the interplay of our two art forms. So, the way we will then work with that material…
Mandy Ross: And I’m always keen to do writing that draws on experience of some kind. Then, you’ve got something to say. You’ve got something to write, because you’ve experienced something, and it’s been real inside. Also, you are then capturing something that you can keep, which we do in different forms. Yes.
Mandy Ross: It did change, didn’t it? We worked on that process of how to watch the film and how to get the kids engaged with watching the film. We were getting better and better at it, but it was a learning process, which would feed into using film in future projects, certainly.
Pyn Stockman: Yes. I think we’ve also begun to explore if we were to be delivering those workshops out into schools where we worked with one class, both of us together, all morning. Then, how we would do that if we were going in to deliver that in another school, and we thought that maybe there might be some point…
In fact, we should talk about… Well, we’re going to be delivering a day history project, and I think the experience of this work has informed how we will deliver that work. It will be about an initial session together and then dividing between the two classes and swapping over.
Mandy Ross: I think, for me, it was that experience of honing what we were doing, which we don’t generally get to do, do we? We think very hard about what we’re doing, but we don’t get the chance to repeat it very often. So, it was useful.
Pyn Stockman: It was very useful, actually, and as you say, yes, something that isn’t… We’re working towards an end product. So, each workshop normally just builds and builds and builds until you’ve made the thing that you were going to make.
Mandy Ross: I thought about the fact that we had looked at modelling on from some work we’d done in our original project, which was about the public speeches at the war memorial. If we could imagine what was said in the Alfreton film, which was silent, so we couldn’t hear it, and then imagining the private thoughts of family members who were attending the unveiling. And then writing a script that interwove those spoken and unspoken thoughts.
That was a job too far. We just couldn’t fit that in, and I suppose the format of the session didn’t lend itself either to that kind of considered writing and taking a bit longer. So, for me, that was something that I would like to work on, but we didn’t manage to do in this project.
Pyn Stockman: I think what Mandy’s highlighted there is our desire always to develop the work, and you can see the potential. For example, I could see the potential with the children making the freeze frames or the little bits of drama. And, ooh, being able to then put them in front of a green screen and film them doing that, and then put them into the Alfreton film itself would have…
Entering the university space
Pyn Stockman: I think the children coming here was so very powerful, and looking around and seeing those facilities and some of the young people when they came and they were… It wasn’t just the workshop we were doing. It was the whole experience of being here that I think saw some really wonderful outcomes. With the way the children were more focused and more willing to work together as a team, in some instances, or starting to feel that, “Oh, yes. This place could be our place.”
Mandy Ross: Even if my mum has said, ‘Oh, no. You’re not the kind of person that will go to university,’ this could be… Look here. Look what there is here. This is exciting. This is in my city. This could be my place.
Mandy Ross: The feedback as well from the adults, whether they were teachers or youth leaders, about that element, I think, was very strong.
Mandy Ross: They could see themselves the kids, goggle-eyed to see what there was here, and how persuasive that is.
Pyn Stockman: I suppose the thing that I would say would be the key to doing this kind of history engagement or creative history engagement, or however you choose to term it, is to find something that you as a practitioner or a teacher are excited about. If you’re not excited by the material or the workshop, then the children aren’t going to be either.